Is Online Higher Ed the Answer?

Ray Myers

Tech to Deceive – Cambridge Analytica Misspeaks?

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Well, those were the “good old days,” when conversations were basically two-way and people didn’t typically search for alternative facts to support their point of view. Now thanks to our vast array of technological tools we can express any or all “viewpoints” and not worry about fact-checking or verification of information. “I saw it online, baby!” And, of course, there are those who put anything online that will advance an alternative “reality.”

Let’s take, for example, our international political activists (antagonists?) from across the sea, Cambridge Analytica. At a recent hearing where British authorities had the first chance to question Mr. Nix, ex-Chief of Analytica, about harvesting personal information of tens of millions of Facebook users without their consent. Mr. Nix said Wednesday that he had misspoken in February when he told lawmakers in London that his company has not used information collected from the social network.

So where are we? Is it really about the technology or their masters who manipulate it?

Ray Myers

Put Down Your Laptops, Pick Up Your Pencils

Silicon Valley may find this all too hard to believe, but researchers are now finding that bringing your laptop to class and typing your notes verbatim as the professor speaks, may actually undermine the learning process. Typing out your handwritten notes later on your preferred digital device may be the better practice to reinforce your retention of material that has been presented in class.

“But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings and in all kinds of workplaces (Dynarski, University of Michigan, 2017).”

I guess it’s time to sharpen our pencils, and put our “thinking caps” back on!

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be posting again on next Wednesday, December 6. In the meantime, please have a look at, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India.

Forgettaboutit!  No Rules for For-Profit Colleges

I am really wondering when we will begin to see so-called Presidential rule-making that will truly Make America Great Again?  I thought maybe it will be in the ways we can make college more affordable for eager young Americans and their families.  What was I thinking?  Instead, we seem to be back to the old “buyer beware” mentality.  What a concept!  If you want a higher education degree, just go online and send in your money and you too can join the ranks of those diploma-holders from America’s higher education institutions.  But what if you really get nothing in return except a diploma that does not actually mean much in our competitive economic environment.  

The Trump administration is delaying rules developed during the Obama years that would put an end to predatory lending practices at the higher education level that were identified and outlawed prior to the change in administrations. Some states have challenged this action by the Education Department to halt this regulatory process.  Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, called the delay a violation of federal law and a “betrayal of students and families across the country who are drowning in unaffordable debt.”  She said she would challenge it in court.  She’s right!

So what will actually happen?  Maybe nothing, and that would let predatory lending go scot-free.  That would truly be a tragedy for the American educational system.

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will be back online next Friday, 6/23.  A little late spring break!

Open Source Textbooks in Higher Ed

An idea whose time has come?  Well, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but any initiative to reduce the costs of higher education must be welcome news for families and students struggling to gain more educational opportunity in the most economical way.  One organization in particular, Achieving the American Dream, is leading this effort to accomplish two things that are crucial to increase higher education completion rates for first-generation, low-income and students of color.  These “roadblocks” are basically the inordinately high textbook costs themselves, and the absence of a “new vehicle for using technology and course materials in dynamic and engaging ways.”

Although a number of community colleges have partnered with philanthropic organizations to reduce textbook costs, four-year institutions have been the primary beneficiaries of open-source innovations.  Research suggests that the use of free open-access materials can significantly reduce costs and contribute to better grades, higher course completion and faster degree completion.

So now I know why I had all the difficulty in getting good grades in college.  If only I had access to open-source materials back then, I would have gotten better grades, completed all my courses, graduated sooner, and saved some money.  From a 21st Century parents’ perspective those must all be good things!

Ray Myers





Screen Test for College?

Well I really don’t know if this would have helped me in the college application process those many years ago.   I was one of the fortunate few who were accepted sight unseen, and also benefitted from some geographical diversity.  Now if I had applied by submitting a two-minute video, who knows what would have happened?  I guess I was just born too late, and maybe the video wouldn’t have really helped me that much.  But we did have “home movies.”

My father used to make “home movies” (8mm) as we called them back then, and I could have submitted many scenes of me participating in family gatherings around holiday times throughout the year.  As a matter of fact, they could have seen the whole family, including many “happy” aunts and uncles who were just dying to get in front of the camera and demonstrate their newfound screen personas.  I am not sure that the few glimpses of me dancing with cousins or roughhousing with my brothers could have been that persuasive.

I wonder what that my college Admissions Office would have learned from watching how all my relatives (and me) behaved at these family get-togethers.  Maybe a little too much “cinema verite” than is needed to gauge chances of potential collegiate academic success.  At the same time they may have learned much more about my family than they may had ever really wanted to know.

Ray Myers

Online Degrees and Virtual College Connections

Going to college has certainly taken on many different connotations these days.  Back in the last century, I had the good fortune of being able to attend a small Jesuit college in Kansas City, Missouri, because I was geographically diverse, having attended a regional Catholic high school in southern New Jersey.  I was not the highest achieving student in my class, but was offered scholarship assistance and a welcoming atmosphere from supportive classmates living away from home for the first time as well.  Most of them were from the Midwest and I owe much to their generosity and friendship.  They were very intrigued to be meeting someone from New Jersey for the first time!  And vice versa for me.

Now you can “go to college” in a many different variety of ways.  Online is certainly a more convenient and assuredly a less expensive way for many.  MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.  But what kind of degree or certification of mastery do you receive at the completion of the online course requirements alone?  Some universities offer a “Statement of Accomplishment,” or other documentation of course/program completion online.  The “treasured” diploma still seems reserved for those who pay tuition (receive scholarships, take out loans, etc.), and attend four years on a college campus.

There may be many other variations on this theme of higher education now being made available to many more students through online learning.  Because of our technological connectivity, we are obviously expanding opportunities for many more learners of all ages anywhere they may be.  This is a new day, presenting many more educational opportunities for citizens of the twenty-first century.  They will not have to take a Greyhound bus half-way across the country and learn to live in a new place and make new “connections.”  I was lucky.

Ray Myers

A Matter of Degrees and Technical Skills

Would you like to get a nanodegree? It may just be the one degree that will land you the job that all your other academic diplomas have not prepared you for. The nanodegree could provide you with the additional skills needed in meeting the work demands in an increasingly digitized economy. In almost every growing business venture today, employers are looking for certain prized technical skills that will complement their core business activities. In addition to learning to use hypertext coding for the web, other skills might include data analysis, web development and mobile programming.

Perhaps what is now described as a nanodegree in technical skill areas will someday become part of everyone’s formal education in the same sense that we need to acquire proficient written and spoken language skills in order to learn over a lifetime. In reality, we are probably seeing the completion of a university education as a “terminal degree.” In order to keep pace with the rapid changes around is, our educational endeavors will have to continue throughout life.

What choice do we really have? Our access to information is ubiquitous in our digitally connected world. What will happen to higher education as we know it, or what will be our standards for measuring the acquisition of knowledge over our lifetimes?

Ray Myers